Everyone is currently flocking to theaters to see Hidden Figures in the hopes of learning more about the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, Black female mathematicians who worked for NASA and helped the U.S. achieve some great things in space. With the success of that book and film, what better time to uncover and share more stories about little-known Black women who’ve done great things in history? One story you should make yourself more aware of is that of designer Ann Cole Lowe.
Lowe is recognized as the first Black woman to become a noted fashion designer, and she he made dresses for everyone from wealthy socialites to Jackie O. Lowe created then Jacqueline Bouvier’s dress for her wedding to John F. Kennedy. Her story is being brought to the masses in a new book called Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe. The large picture book, written by Deborah Blumenthal with illustrations by the incredibly talented Laura Freeman, may be targeted to younger readers, but it’s both informative and engrossing enough to capture the attention of adults as well. Trust me, I read it.
Fancy Party Gowns takes you back to Lowe’s childhood, from the days she spent in Alabama helping her mother sew gowns to taking over the business and eventually opening up her own salons. Of course, because Lowe came up in the early 1900s, she faced a great deal of adversity as a Black woman. From having to attend design school classes in New York City in a separate classroom by herself to working anonymously so that people wouldn’t know a Black woman made the gowns of certain clients, Lowe went through a lot to follow her dream. But in the end, her one-of-a-kind designs are finally being attributed to her and have been placed in the JFK Presidential Library Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The picture book is beautiful and gives Lowe the credit and respect that she went without for so long. We would recommend ordering the book, which was released today (you can buy here), for your children. But if you want to get it for yourself in order to learn more about Lowe’s legacy, you will be greatly rewarded with a rich story.
In honor of the book’s release and Lowe’s story, here are 9 things you should know about Ann Cole Lowe.